DUBAI: You can reel off all the petrolhead data you like about the Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII — 6.75 liters, 560 brake horse power, V12 twin-turbo engine, 900 newtons of torque and a maximum speed of 250kph — but all of that pales into insignificance before the Spirit of Ecstasy.
The classic sculpture that sits on top of the hood tells you this is a Rolls-Royce, probably the best car in the world. And it is not just any old Rolls, either. This is a Phantom, the British carmaker’s top-of-the-range, most elite model.
Phantoms have been conveying kings, presidents and other rulers for decades. When Sir Winston Churchill wanted to impress his new ally, King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia, he gave him a Phantom III variation as a gift. The car is still much loved by royalty throughout the Middle East, and is the ultimate symbol of power, status and luxury.
Just getting behind the wheel of one boosts your ego several notches. People turn their heads to stare, nudge their friends to take a look, and take photos for immediate Instagramming. A Phantom owner is an influencer.
For a long time it was the ultimate chauffeur car, and no doubt those who own one will be sufficiently well off to afford a driver, too. But it would be unforgivable to miss out on the opportunity to drive this incredible piece of engineering yourself.
German car manufacturer BMW, which has owned Rolls-Royce since 1998, realizes this and is increasingly aiming the car at the self-drive market.
The one I was lucky enough to drive, courtesy of the AGMC dealership in Dubai, was extra special: an extended wheelbase version, some 22 centimeters longer than a “normal” Phantom. This provides even more space in the back for a head of state to spread out while reviewing crucial documents, host a mini-summit, or simply relax.
You might think a car this big will be difficult to drive, but that is not the case at all. The power- assisted steering is as light as a feather, and the four-wheel steering eases you effortlessly round any sharp curves. The German sensor technology makes parking and maneuvering simple, even for such a big, powerful car.
On Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai, you really get the chance to put the thoroughbred through its paces. An eight-speed automatic gearbox zips you from standing to 100kmh in 5.4 seconds, which is fast enough to overtake almost anything else on the road, even in super sports car-crazy Dubai.
When you hit 120kmh, the windshield display politely reminds you of the fact. It needs to do that, because inside the car is as silent as if you were still stationary. Engine noise is virtually non-existent even at high speed, and the suspension is so perfectly balanced you feel like you are gliding along on a cloud, more like a hover vehicle than rubber-on-the road.
Where to begin on the interior? The dashboard on the Phantom I drove was a classy display of Burgundy red leather — matching the seat and deep-pile caret — and polished chrome instruments.
It oozes British craftsmanship mixed with German technology. The dash itself can be customized — “bespoke”, as Rolls-Royce calls it — with any number of stylish motifs. In the Arabian Gulf, Islamic calligraphic themes are popular, as are ocean features such as shells and waves.
The rear is like a double-seat, first-class cabin on an aircraft, complete with in-flight entertainment in seat-back consoles, a drinks cabinet and curtains that close at the touch of a button to envelop you in luxury. If you want to doze during a long, chauffeured journey, the starlight ceiling display should help you drop off.
“I could live here,” said one passenger I treated to a drive. Which is appropriate, because the Phantom VIII will cost about the same as a reasonably sized Dubai apartment. About AED 2.2m ($600,000) will get you started, before adding those “bespoke” features.
For these, the sky is the limit.
I’ve driven quite a few luxury cars in Dubai and make a habit, when I finish a test-drive, of telling the showroom staff: “That’s the best car I’ve ever driven.” They appreciate the compliment, even when I am faking it.
With the Phantom VIII, I sincerely meant it.